Friday, August 24, 2012

Elul 5642 First Ma'amar

The month of Elul is a prime time for cultivating and strengthening our relationship with God.  The Chiddushei HaRim notes that a hint to this is embedded in the very word Elul.  He learns it from the following pasuk in Tehillim (100:3), "דעו כי ה' הוא א-להים הוא עשנו כתיב ולא קרי ולו אנחנו עמו וצאן מרעיתו/Know that God is the Lord; He made us and we are His, His people and the sheep of His pasture."  There are many words in the Torah which are traditionally read differently from the way they are spelled.  In this pasuk, the word ולא/and not, is read ולו/and His.  The translation above is according to the traditional reading.  According to the spelling, the pasuk states that God made us, we did not make ourselves. 

The Chiddushei HaRim points out that the two words, לא and לו together, spell אלול.  He explains the significance of these words in the context of the pasuk.  To the extent that we are לא אנחנו/not for ourselves, לו אנחנו/we are His.  When we suppress our own desires in favor of God's, we become His people, His flock.  Significantly, the first day of Elul is the new year for tithing domestic animals[1].  Elul is the time to become subservient to God the way sheep and beasts of burden are subservient to their owners.

According to the Chiddushei HaRim, we first subjugate ourselves to God.  The result is that God accepts us as His people.  However, the Sfas Emes explains that the opposite order is also true.  We can first use our intellect to come to the conclusion that it makes sense to be subservient to God.  As a result, we suppress our own desires in favor of God's.  In fact, this is exactly how Chazal[2] understand the pasuk, "... אדם ובהמה תושיע ה'/… You, God, save man and beast." (Tehillim 36:7) Chazal understand that both "man" and "beast" in this pasuk refer to man.  God saves one who is clever like man, but makes himself subservient like a beast. 

"Man" as a concept, refers to one who is close to God since this is the purpose of man's existence.  It is reached by totally subordinating ourselves to God.  This understanding is the reason that Chazal understand this pasuk as referring only to the nation of Israel.  We have the innate ability to subordinate ourselves to God.  Therefore, Chazal[3] say that we are called, "man" since we come close to God through subordination to Him.  Chazal[4] understand this from the following pasuk as well, "כי אתם המעט מכל העמים/For you are the smallest of all the nations." (Devarim 7:7)  Chazal understand this to mean that we make ourselves small before God.  Therefore God loves us.

We can also understand the following pasuk in this manner, "ואתן צאני צאן מרעיתי אדם אתם .../You are my sheep, sheep of my pasture, you are man …" (Yechezkeil 34:31)  God declares that we are His sheep – we have subjugated ourselves to Him.  This is a sign that we must have first used our intellect to reach the conclusion that this pays – we were first "men".

This pasuk can also be understood according to the order of the Chiddushei HaRim.  God praises us by noting first that we are His flock – we have subjugated ourselves.  Because of this we come close to God and become "man".

From our perspective, we say first that He has made us His nation – we are close to Him and are therefore "men".  Because of this we subjugate ourselves to Him like sheep.  This is why the order of the pasuk in Tehillim which is written from our perspective is, "עמו וצאן מרעיתו/His nation and the sheep of His pasture," – first "His nation" and then afterwards, "the sheep of His pasture."

May we merit taking advantage of Elul to subjugate ourselves totally to God so that we can come close to Him and merit redemption.

[1] Rosh HaShana 2a
[2] Chullin 5b
[3] Yevamos 61a
[4] Tanchuma Eikev 3

No comments: